This series looks into the different things riders can do to improve their performance on the bike. The “one percent-ers” if you like.
That said, a badly fitting bike can have such a dramatic and negative impact on riding experiences, it’s almost worth thinking of it as a 100 percent-er. If you end up in a world of pain every time you go out for a ride, pretty soon you won’t be riding at all. This is what happened to me last week while experimenting with a new saddle.
Keen to get back riding as soon as possible, and with the L'Etape Australia's December 2 ride date getting closer by the week, I got in contact with the ever-knowledgeable (and ever-smiley) Anthony Challinor at Velofix in Rozelle, Sydney to learn more.
I first met Challinor over a year ago as he was recommended by Melbourne-based fit guru, Stewart Morton (riderfit.cc), as one of the best bike fitters near where I live in Sydney. Trained in the (thorough, fascinating, long-estabilished) Specialized Body Geometry Fit method, Challinor made several small changes to my bike and cleats in that first consultation that combined to have a significant impact.
With so many variables to consider, what I respect most about Challinor and other experienced fitters is the way they can logically distil one factor from the next and replace industry hype with factual insights. This takes the trial and error out of experimenting with one idea after another, which saves an immeasurable amount of time and pain when there are so many products, and micro-adjustments, to choose from.
Ant, what are some of the telltale signs that someone should think about seeing a fitter to get more out of their riding?
There are many telltale signs that a bike fit would be of great benefit. Discomfort, such as saddle discomfort, numbness (hands, feet, saddle), or feelings of being 'locked' on to the bike (not feeling like the bike is an extension of you, the rider), pain of any sort that is not related to effort, not being able to be in control of the bike, not being able to keep up with friends when you know you are stronger and fitter than them...The list can go on.
There are so many mixed messages out there about gender specificity when it comes to bike design and contact points. What do you think is most important from the consumer's point of view?
Finding someone, be it a bike fitter or a good bike shop, who can understand the individual's needs regardless of gender and then has the knowledge and understanding of the important details of the individual so as to select the frame and/or components that are suited to that rider.
There has been so much information telling women to buy ‘women’s' products. But from my experience in fit, most ‘women’s’ specific products are just as useful for both genders as are ‘men’s’ products.
We are starting to see a shift away from women’s specific products a little and more of a unisex model range with more variation. Take saddles, for example. We once had a range of saddles with no great difference other than more padding on some than others, or a hole in the middle. Now we have the same model of a saddle in multiple widths. We have saddles that have similar support any given width and might allow some more room for the hamstring to have more clearance. We have saddles that account for various levels of flexibility.
All of this can seem daunting as we have a lot more to choose from. But again, it comes back to finding that ‘someone' to help guide you to the correct item for your desired need, riding style and your body's unique boundaries.
Can you talk us through some of the typical benefits of a personalised approach to bike fit for a regular rider, as opposed to someone aiming for the next world champs?
A personalised approach is something that allows the rider to be comfortable, efficient and limit the chances of injury. This applies to all riders. We all want to be comfortable when we strap ourselves to a machine so we can enjoy the ride and come back and do it again. There is almost nothing worse than being uncomfortable on the bike as it plays on our mind so much.
As for injury prevention, this is actually worse than discomfort. I see so many people who love riding but each time they ride a niggling injury flares up, so they rest and then, hey presto, they are fine again. They then go for another ride, the niggle comes back and so on.
As for efficiency, wouldn't you like to know that you are going as quick or as easily as you can? Wouldn't you want to get up that local hill and not feel like you were fighting yourself all the way up?
Have there been many situations where even you've been surprised by the impact the fit process has had one someone's experiences on the bike?
I am always impressed with the impact of every fit and I have had many times been surprised by the improvement from other fits.
One that stands out was one I did many years ago and it was early in my fit career. I had a lady who had been previously fitted by a ‘guru’ in fit so I had some self-doubt. I stuck with what I do and changed her fit immensely from her previous one.
A week after the fit she calls me up and says, "Ant what have you done, my arse hurts!" so I take it all in, have a little chat and let her know to keep riding and I will see her at the follow-up appointment the next week.
She came to the follow-up appointment beaming to tell me how much the fit has changed her for the better. The pain in the arse that she was complaining about was the fact that she had finally found her glutes from the new position. She was now able to engage them and was able to power over the climbs with her friends and not be the first to get dropped as soon as the road went upwards. She gained a huge amount of extra confidence when descending due to the change in weight distribution on the bike directly as a result of the fit and overall was back to loving the bike again.
I have many of these examples, how much space do you have?
Heaps! How long do you have? I'm often contacted by people who are just getting into riding, are getting painful niggles on the bike, but feel self-conscious about walking into a bike shop as they don't feel like the typical Lycra-clad rider. What would your advice be to them?
There is nothing we haven't seen or heard before and there's no judgement. Give your bike fitter as much information as you can, and you will get the best result.
Last question. What would your advice be to someone lifting the amount of riding they do with a gran fondo or an event like L'Etape Australia in mind?
Always increase the volume or load of riding you're doing slowly, and if you are unsure or find you are getting sore or injured seek out advice and help. This could be in the form of a cycling coach, bike fitter, sports dietitian, physio, etc.
The cost of a fit varies depending on the fitter, their experience, and the amount of time and detail that best suits the needs of the cyclist. But compared to the money spent on health bills, and time lost while healing various overuse injuries, I’d call it “not very much”. In fact, I wish I’d done something like this ten or twenty years ago.
If any of Challinor's comments raise an alarm bell regarding your own experiences on the bike, seek recommendations from other riders in your local cycling community for someone with the skills to help.